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MN attorney after salmonella convictions: 'This happens more than we know'

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The former owner of a Georgia peanut company was convicted Friday of criminal charges related to a salmonella outbreak that killed nine people, including three Minnesotans.

The Associated Press reports jurors found Stewart Parnell, his brother, and a third executive with Peanut Corp. of America guilty of charges including conspiracy.

The 2009 salmonella outbreak involving tainted peanut butter sickened more than 714 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and led to one of the country's largest food recalls.

As the AP reports, it was investigators with Minnesota's departments of health and agriculture who traced the salmonella to the Georgia company, which was shut down after it was identified as the origin of the outbreak.

The trial in Albany, Georgia, opened seven weeks ago. Federal prosecutors argued that Parnell and his company cut corners on safety to maximize profits. They told jurors that when laboratory tests detected salmonella in their peanut butter, the company covered up the results and chose to ship the product to buyers.

CNN reports food safety advocates consider the Parnell's conviction a landmark case because it's the first time a corporate executive has been held accountable for a company distributing tainted food.

Twin Cities attorney Fred Pritzker, who represented some of the salmonella victims, told the network:

 "I don't view (Parnell's) conduct as any different than poisoning people or drunk driving. My strong suspicion is that this happens much more often than is known."

CNN says that while prosecutors introduced more than 1,000 documents and called 45 witnesses, defense attorneys took less than two hours to argue that Parnell was a business owner being scapegoated by the government.

On Saturday Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was involved in the prosecution of the case, released a statement regarding the conviction.

“After more than five years of waiting, the families of those who were killed from the salmonella outbreak from contaminated peanut butter have finally seen justice. I called for the prosecution of this case, and while the verdict won’t erase the loss these families have suffered, it should send a crystal clear message to those who would knowingly sell tainted and dangerous food to unsuspecting customers. People like Shirley Almer, a grandmother and recovering cancer patient from Perham, Minnesota, should never have died from eating a simple piece of peanut butter toast.”

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness. Most people recover within a few days but those with weaker immune systems can be more vulnerable.

All three of the Minnesota victims were more than 70 years old. His son says Clifford Tousignant ate a peanut butter sandwich nearly every day at the Brainerd nursing home where he died in 2009. Marshall Tousignant tells the Associated Press Parnell's conviction brings a measure of justice but does not bring his father back.

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